With System Center 2012 Service Pack 1, Microsoft delivers the CloudOS. A new label that may take off — CloudOS refers to viewing all the parts of a modern hybrid cloud as one platform. This means thinking of your on-premise Microsoft private clouds, partner-hosted services, and Microsoft-hosted public cloud subscriptions as a single resource pool for running your enterprise software workloads in their most economical and best-performing locations. System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 (SP1) adds significant cloud integration to every component in the System Center suite.

The concept of CloudOS is that you have greater freedom to architect solutions that take advantage of the geography and economies of your business, partners and suppliers, and customers. You can locate application components where they cost less and/or perform better:

  • For scaling out and right-placing: If you don’t already have a private cloud resource in the right place or at the lowest price, you can locate a partner in the appropriate region or industry specialization, or subscribe to public cloud services that match the requirements.
  • For getting started: Organizations just beginning a cloud journey should take a look at CloudOS (Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012 SP1, and Windows Azure) as a platform that can safely and confidently transition some or all IT services to the cloud. The cloud journey can be on a comfortable, even extended, timetable that is driven by evolving business needs, not by the priorities of legacy IT infrastructure investments.

An economy of scale occurring is that Microsoft is sharing lessons learned in Windows Azure in “trickle down” fashion. That is, the scripts (like PowerShell), and user interfaces (like the Azure Service Management Portal) that manage millions of Windows servers in Azure very efficiently can deliver the same efficiencies, just on smaller scales, in your data center or a service provider’s — or both!. You can essentially create a “mini-Azure“on premise, or share a partner’s “mini-Azure”, or subscribe to pieces of the “real Windows Azure,” and use the same tools across all three clouds.

Connecting the clouds: From the application up

A challenge for enterprises trying to plan long term IT strategies these days is the difficultly in forecasting a solid five-to-ten year roadmap that transitions from a traditional on-premise IT plant to an optimized hybrid cloud environment. Most organizations understand by now that unless they begin to adopt appropriate cloud technologies, they may be at a disadvantage in the global marketplace to competitors that successfully leverage cloud economics.

With CloudOS, Microsoft is creating a tipping-point moment that could accelerate cloud adoption in many companies. There are several components to this success story:

  • Microsoft “owns” the whole CloudOS stack, i.e., Windows Server + System Center + Azure.
  • System Center 2012 SP1 components create sticky application-layer attach points to the cloud.
  • The cloud migration journey need be neither all-or-nothing nor arbitrary: the migration can be modular and application-driven.
  • Service providers to populate the hybrid cloud ecosystem have it easier, being able to start up hosted services using lower-cost commodity hardware and at smaller scale.

Each of these components is unique in the industry and they combine to create something tangible: Stepping-stones for an organization from where it is today to an eventual optimized cloud environment, either hybrid cloud or all-public cloud. I heard a CIO remark that CloudOS was real enough to chart out a 10-year roadmap for their company — this was the first set of comprehensive cloud tools and technologies that they could understand, see and touch, and confidently envision with.

Mapping essential cloud characteristics to System Center features

I previously wrote about the U.S. federal NIST’s definition of the essential characteristics of a cloud. It makes sense to evaluate product features against business benefits that are backed up by process validation such as ITIL and the NIST definition. For example:

  • The business benefit is “avoid overcapacity,” such as purchasing more infrastructure than you need, than having an idle capacity situation.
  • The NIST essential characteristics that enable this benefit are”resource pooling” and “rapid elasticity.”
  • CloudOS expresses these characteristics in connectors between System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM), Operations Manager, and Orchestrator that can avoid overcapacity situations.

Here are a few specific features in System Center 2012 SP1 that power the CloudOS, mapped to NIST cloud essential characteristics:

  1. On-Demand Self Service: App Controller lets users provision Virtual Machines and cloud services. Service Manager lets users open tickets which may invoke Orchestrator workflows that perform provisioning and scaling tasks.
  2. Broad Network Access: System Center 2012 SP1 Configuration Manager and Windows InTune interoperate for Mobile Device Management (MDM) and universal application distribution-supporting Android and Apple IOS devices alongside Windows PCs and Windows Phones. Microsoft identity management is open and includes Google, Yahoo, Microsoft ID, and Active Directory authentication providers.
  3. Resource pooling: VMM pools data center fabric for VM provisioning, Operations Manager pools management servers and gateways. Windows Server 2012 Storage Spaces pools disks of any type and from any disk controller.
  4. Rapid Elasticity: Provision or delete a VM in minutes. Add disks to highly available storage pools without adding array controllers. Extend on-premise network and compute resources to clouds for peak and burst capacity.
  5. Measured Service: VMM with Operations Manager produces charge-back reports on a per-cloud/per-service basis that let you quantify exactly how much a service is costing.

Microsoft’s secret weapon for renewed industry relevance

Once you become familiar with the features and capabilities of Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012 SP1, and Windows Azure, you can see a complete canvas emerge–upon which you can draw a low-risk, long-term, and high-yield strategic IT roadmap for an organization. CloudOS is a compelling concept because it has the appeal of predictability and positive ROI that are Microsoft strengths in the enterprise computing space.

That Microsoft is building a great product here can be seen in Microsoft’s Server & Tools division being the company’s fastest growing division Q4 last year. Internally Microsoft knows they are onto a good thing, late in 2012, they reorganized to merge the Windows Server and System Center technical teams. Breaking down organizational barriers between the server and the tools teams makes a lot of sense when you honestly want to blend the OS and the tools into a single entity–CloudOS.